Images and Idols: Book Review

What do God and your creativity have to do with each other?

This is the question Images and Idols by Thomas Terry and J. Ryan Lister seeks to answer. There’s a tension there for many, and most fall into camps of either being afraid theology will hamper creativity or that art will lead to bad theology or distract from “more important things.”

As a classical musician, I don’t really fit the creative mold – I love the rules and structure. So the draw of the book for me was the theology behind the importance sometimes put on creativity. At times this seems like something that sounds nice, but too many run-ins with theology that sounds nice but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny has made me skeptical… especially when that theology comes from creatives (I guess even as a musician I still fall into the critical side of things, wanting to be extra-careful that the theology is sound. I am the one who complains about speculation and bad theology in Christmas carols). That the book is co-authored by someone whose theology I trust gave me more confidence.

Essentially, the argument goes like this: the first thing we learn about God in Scripture is that He is Creator. We are in His image, therefore when we create (derivatively) we are reflecting His image.

This leads to four questions dealt with in the book (this isn’t the book’s structure per se but broader categories most of the discussion falls into).

What is creativity?  Lister and Terry define it as “any and all works of imagination done for God and for good” (pg. 18).

Why does our creativity matter? As mentioned above, creativity matters because it is one way we reflect God’s image in our humanity. The authors also discuss the beauty in God and in the world He made. They also argue that beautiful art often has a glimmer of transcendence that can lift our eyes to God – whether that leads to worship for a believer or to searching for an unbeliever.

What are the bounds of our creativity (and why are there bounds)? Like all of the Christian life, we are to submit to Christ with our creativity and allow it to be directed by our love for God and others. Our creativity is for God’s glory and the good of others. I appreciated their discussion on theology informing art whether or not the “tree’s root system” of explicit theology is seen (pg. 62), even as God speaks in general and special revelation (pg. 117). This has been something I keep thinking about as a mom, because the main “boundary” I come up against is that of priorities: my time and energy are taken up with raising my kids, and that is my work right now with most creative work being a hobby (though raising kids and homeschooling and housekeeping have their own forms of creativity).

What should the goal of our creativity be? This was touched on above, but this quote on page 80 in the middle of a discussion of idolatry summarizes it well: “Creativity wasn’t built for your kingdom, it was built for God’s.” This question also draws on the goal of the New Creation and its influence on the present. “The new creation steers our creativity toward its proper destination while our creativity helps the new creation promises break into the world we now know” (pg. 134).

That was only a very brief summary of main questions brought up and dealt with in Images and Idols. But it has so much more in it, both in depth with those questions, and in talking about God’s creative and re-creative activity in the world and in His people, in the present and the future (a glimpse of that discussion: “The Creator creatively became created to recreate His creation.” [pg. 95]). His creativity is what directs the world, not yours. You can rest (134).

There was a lot that stirred my hear to worship and rejoice, but they certainly did not ignore the topic of idolatry, which was convicting. “Idolatry is what happens when image bearers become image makers with creation’s images” (pg. 75). They discuss the need for the Christian’s creativity to be to please and glorify God, out of and for the worship of Him, and God’s desire to have all of us, not just our creativity, and how we are more important than our art (pg. 139).

Ultimately, Terry and Lister show that Christianity and creativity are not at odds. God is over, not against, creativity. If our creativity is not under His Lordship, then it is our lord, not Him (pg 106-107). “What if your chains aren’t Christianity but the popular claims of the world? What if you’re actually enslaved to your creativity? And what if we told you that the thing you love about your creativity—that glimmer of transcendence that captivates you—is actually a distant reflection of the God of Scripture reflected in your image bearing?” (pg. 109)

Weaknesses:
– It is, by their own admission, imbalanced, as the point of the book is to zoom in on one facet of the image of God. But if you keep that in mind, I don’t think it’s really a problem.
– Most cultural references and examples of art are modern popular culture. I’m not big into Marvel, etc. but I generally was able to understand what was going on without that, but it may make it harder for some in the more classical world.
– At times it is repetitive, especially with a lack of synonyms – but at times that’s it’s strength, because it leads to quotes like these – “Christ cares about your creativity because He cares about creatives” (pg. 106), and the quote above about idolatry and the Creator becoming created to recreate His creation. Some of this repetitiveness is also from the book’s structure not being by topic but as more of a biblical theology tracing it from creation to New Creation.
– I would have liked more definition. I mentioned their definition of creativity, but I think some sections would have made more sense had they taken the time to explain it more or explain “imagination.” We often think of imagination as related to things like fantasy novels, which makes it seem odd to talk about God being imaginative. But if imagination is thinking beyond what is seen, then the incarnation is “imaginative” and “creative,” and though we see God revealed in word, nature, and Jesus, then imagination is needed to a degree in understanding Him because He is not seen. I would also want to pursue this idea into imagination into areas of life that aren’t seen as art/creative, such as the home kitchen (can it really be a glimpse of transcendence in the oven spring of a good loaf of sourdough?), and into the lives of those who aren’t “creatives.”
– It does avoid a lot of the speculation that comes up in other books on creativity. But there are still some things that I would have liked more supported, not so much in a statement being false but having more weight than I see in Scripture.

Strengths:
– The writing is beautiful and thought-provoking. I don’t know who wrote what parts, but I know from Thomas Terry’s spoken word and Ryan Lister’s Emblems of the Infinite King that they are both word wizards and have a way of saying things in a way that makes them new and full of wonder. 
– I was convicted frequently about my own heart and desires in creating, especially as I read this while writing my lament.
– While I would still like to pursue some of these questions further Scripturally, I do see more biblical basis for the importance of creativity than I did before.
– The discussion of glimpsing transcendence through creativity/art/beauty was encouraging to me amidst the mundane.


So in summary: Creativity is from God and for God, bounded by greatest commandment; it is for love of God and others, to glorify Him, not me, for showing glimpses of Him/transcendence to world, and to inspire worship and wonder for Him. Do it in a way “that you cannot run fast enough to lay your art at the foot of God’s throne” (pg. 118).

There are two more forthcoming and I cannot wait!

(Also, for anyone else who reads it and isn’t very familiar with Humble Beast, an explanation of the letters on the cover is not to be found in the book. I thought I was an idiot because I could not figure them out from the book, only to find that they weren’t there. They stand for Creativity, Humility, Theology, and Doxology – all themes of the book but not stated like that!)

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The End of 2020

Despite its unprecedentedness, 2020 was a quiet year for us! We had no babies or moves for the 1st time in our 7 years of marriage.

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One highlight of December was recording my lament. I realized while working on it how much I’ve missed playing music with people, and while I’m more comfortable on oboe than piano, it was still enjoyable.

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Finally found something I enjoy doing when I go out by myself  – the seminary’s library! Books, quiet, and very few people. And I can touch the books and browse them – a rarity during COVID as our public library is only doing curbside pickup.

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A crazy new tree discovery – the strawberry tree. They’re apparently edible but we didn’t try them.

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My Christmas break reading (I didn’t end up finishing Recalling the Hope of Glory).

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And our books from the fall semester’s theology class.

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These books were too tall to fit upright on my shelf – but it was fun to watch the bookmarks move as I made progress.

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A tasty loaf

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Gingerbread houses – my first time doing them completely from scratch.

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S’s doll’s leg fell off (she was mine once so we knew it was coming because she was old) and I fixed it myself with supplies from Etsy. I was afraid for a bit that I wouldn’t be able to get her back together but it worked out.

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I hate the cold, but at least frost is beautiful.

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She loves this giant bear Ezra’s parents have.

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preparing to welcome 2021… by going to bed by 10:30.

I’m thankful for abundance.
I’m thankful for the relative normalcy of our lives, before and during COVID.
I’m thankful for their unstained innocence and wonder.
I’m thankful that their little world is safe.
I’m acutely aware of its fragility and abnormality, which makes me give extra thanks and hold them tighter, while seeking to love the infinite Giver more than His wondrous gifts.

memorization// Christmas carols, Is He Worthy

favorite recipes// honey lemon curd // chai syrup concentrate // this bread

best of online// 
Song on repeat: Jesus is Mine (something about Kauflin’s voice is striking)
1. FPA/Max McLean’s Gospel of Mark is incredible.
2. God rigged the election
3. Flamenco Dancing since we were doing Spain for geography
4. neat thoughts on the incarnation
5. This poem (Jesus of the Scars) appeared in two different books for class in the last two semesters.
6. El Salon Mexico conducted by the man himself
7. I’ve been praying for the Challies family after the loss of their son Nick, and Tim Challies’s posts have brought me to both tears and worship.
8. enjoying these animations
9. the Critical Race Theory conversation
10. What quarantine rhythms should families make permanent?
11. engaging pop culture with kids
12. motherhood is a call to suffer in hope
13. a time to be silent
14. motherhood in the presence of God
15. the purpose of man in the purpose of education

reading of late//
November: A Little Book on the Christian Life (Calvin) // The Cross of Christ (Stott) // Remember Me (Wilcock) // The Fussy Baby Book (Sears) // Confessions (Augustine, audio) // Emblems of the Infinite King (Lister, audio via this podcast) // Know and Tell (Glass) // School Education (Charlotte Mason) //

December: The Lord God Made them All (Herriot) // Awaking Wonder (Clarkson) // D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Murray) // The Dawning of Indestructible Joy (Piper) // Every Living Thing (Herriot) // Images and Idols (Terry & Lister) // The Presence of God (Lister) // On the Incarnation (Athanasius) // The White Rose Resists (Baratt)

In the middle of Recalling the Hope of Glory (Ross; I have about 150 pages left) and I decided not to finish Bird by Bird (Lamott).

thinking about// the will justifying what we desire (Charlotte Mason) // worship in daily life, self-sacrifice // fame and the inner ring (this tweet was enlightening) // how much I love getting to compose, but also how exhausting it is and how hard the getting it played part of writing music is! // thankful for the voices of Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Lister this last year – they have been formative and grounding.

Thoughts at the end of our first homeschool term: We had a lot of finding our footing, struggling with what to do with B underfoot, realizing I focus in wrong places, S learning to learn and overcome perfectionism. The feast often feels rejected, but then she hummed Copland all through break, narrates the Nutcracker book when we pulled it out of storage, and uses the word “struck.”
I aim to focus more heavily next term on habits of attention and observation.

what brings joy//
Poplars and Japanese maples
Being able to hear! (my ear was clogged for a few days and it was miserable)
Theology class, even via zoom
Pumpernickel
Thanksgiving and birthdays with no food restrictions
snuggles from B
Days that feel like spring
seeing all my family this year!

2020: Fourth Quarter Books

October

Worthy (Fitzpatrick and Schumacher)
reviewed here.

On the Edge of the Sea of Darkness (Andrew Peterson)
Honestly, we were disappointed with this. The characters are fun and the world is convincing, but the pacing was poor. I listened to part of the second one as well but eventually just got tired of it, though Ezra enjoyed it and did finish it.

The God Who Became Human (Cole)
About the incarnation, and whether or not the incarnation as it happened was what Israel was expecting – how it wasn’t what they were expecting, and yet how it fits together with prophecies. It was good, but not anything life-changing.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile (McGraw)
A novel I found on Ezra’s mom’s shelf and picked up as we were studying ancient Egypt. It was enjoyable.

Stop Calling Me Beautiful (Masonheimer)
I’d been so excited to read this book and finally got my hands on it! While there was very little new in it for me, it was a breath of fresh air as I agree so much with her critiques of women’s ministry.
Some favorite parts:
“Be concerned with His power, not outcomes.”
“Christian grief is all the pain and loss plus the presence of a loving and faithful God.”
conviction: pushes you to God thru repentance, condemnation pushes you away from God through guilt.” 188

Our Northwest Heritage (Hannula)
Also found on Ezra’s mom’s shelf – I know very little about the history of the Pacific Northwest so this was very informative, and I appreciated the Christian perspective. While I’m sure more could be said on everything from every angle, I also appreciated how the wrongs done against Native Americans were not glossed over.

November

A Little Book on the Christian Life (Calvin).
Finally finished this after a long time of it sitting on my to-read shelf. It was simple to read and edifying. The biggest take-away for me was on self-denial – submission to Him because He is good.
I also appreciated his discussion of doctrine – “True doctrine is not a matter of the tongue but of life” – 12
“Doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter int he most intimate affection of the heart.” 13
That was convicting for me as I was realizing how little I apply what I read!

“For every work performed in obedience to one’s calling, no matter how ordinary and common, is radiant – most valuable in the eyes of our Lord.” 126

The Cross of Christ (Stott)
Stott’s book about the cross, why it was needed, what it accomplished, and how it affects our lives was very good. I had some quibbles with him here and there (mostly in ch 13 and the idea of God suffering), but it grew my understanding of the cross, especially in the centrality of substitution for the atonement but also truth in other facets like Christus victor when weighted properly. His discussion of union with Christ was enlightening and on self-denial was convicting.
Three favorite quotes:
“We must never characterize the Father as Judge and the Son as Savior. It is one and the same God who through Christ saves us from himself.”
“Our body has not only been created by God and will one day be resurrected by him, but it has been bought by Christ’s blood and is indwelled by his Spirit. Thus it belongs to God three times over, by creation, redemption and indwelling.” 
“Self-denial is not denying to ourselves luxuries such as chocolate, cakes, cigarettes and cocktails (though it may include this); it is actually denying or disowning ourselves, renouncing our supposed right to go our own way.”

Remember Me (Penelope Wilcock)
I have usually greatly enjoyed Wilcock’s The Hawk and the Dove series. This one, however, I wish I had not read. I almost put it down at one point but was hoping she would take it in another direction. One reason I love the series is because with monks there should be no romance! But the whole book was about a monk falling in love and trying to decide whether or not to break his monastic vows because of that. Anyway, I still recommend the series as a whole but not this one, and I’ll be skipping the next one for similar reasons.

The Fussy Baby Book (Sears)
This was more reassuring than anything else – often more consolation than advice – I got it from the library because it said it covered up to age 5, and B has continued to be our most challenging kid. I didn’t find that much to be a practical help, mostly because they’re farther along the attachment parenting scale than we are, but they also give good tips for building guidelines. I appreciated the reminder that we can’t change the kind of flower but can help it grow beautifully, needed the comment that they mirror our moods, and have implemented the question of “can I help you?” when they have big emotions (I say “they” here because I’ve used it most with our 4 year old!).

Confessions (Augustine, audio)
If I had read this it would have taken forever because I’m such a detail person and there were so many profound statements, but I don’t know that audio was the best choice. Some of that may have been because the narrator was poor and the translation was older. It was frequently a bit dizzying to follow his arguments. It was worth it and I do recommend the book but I also think I will have to revisit it in print at some point.

Emblems of the Infinite King (Lister, audio)
This one, however, is incredible as audio (and in print as well, so you can get the illustrations and pause over the words). It’s written as a systematic theology for kids around 10, but our 6 year old has enjoyed it and I have benefited from it. It’s convicting, wonder-inducing, and almost word-magic. The audio version read by the author and with background music is wonderful.

Know and Tell (Glass)
This is about the art of narration, an integral part of the homeschool philosophy we are using. This book was highly practical and helped take away a lot of fear I had about whether or not narration will really flow into composition, essays, research papers, grammar, etc.

School Education (Charlotte Mason)
Mason’s third volume. There’s always a lot that is good in her volumes that I want to implement and is good to be reminded of (both in method specifically and general parenting as well), but also always a number of things that I disagree with. This one had good reminders about authority and was most helpful in why books need to be living, how living books “work” for education.

This quotation was one I wrote down: “Self-control in emergencies. Self-restraint in indulgences. Self-discipline in habits. Alertness to seize opportunities. Promptness and vigour in bodily exercises. Quick perception as to that which is to be seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelt.”

December

The Lord God Made them All and Every Living Thing (Herriot)
The final two volumes of James Herriot’s veterinary stories. It should be said again that I am queasy and don’t love animals and yet find his books so good, probably because his writing is so good, and the stories being episodic make it easy to pick up when I need something light.

Awaking Wonder (Clarkson)
I read a chapter of this every week in our first term homeschooling, and it was helpful to have reminders of the big picture and to temper all the Charlotte Mason input I have in a way that still holds forward a lot of her ideals but shows it in a more real-life way that’s less overwhelming.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Murray)
Ezra recommended this to me, as he read both volumes of Iain Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones is a “hero” of Ezra’s and so it was nice to read about him and see why Ezra likes him so much and also the ways Ezra’s vision for preaching lines up with Lloyd-Jones’s. It was dense for a biography, though, with lots of sermon excerpts, which made it slow-going but rich, and was convicting with regards to ministry, in not looking for something to say but being one who testifies and moves among people as one who has been with God.


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy (Piper)
I read this for Advent, and Piper’s writing is something that sparks wonder and worship so well and I appreciated his short meditations.


Images and Idols (Terry & Lister)
Full review coming soon!

The Presence of God (Lister)
The negative first: It’s over 300 pages long, which isn’t too hefty, but it did feel very long for some reason – maybe because as a biblical theology it’s repetitive, but that’s normal for a biblical theology. It’s also a dissertation which means there’s lots of footnotes which add a lot but can be distracting and overwhelming (I say that like I read a lot of dissertations but I never have before).
That said, it’s a very good book. Its thesis – “The presence of God is a central goal In God’s redemptive mission… the presence of God is the agent by which the Lord accomplishes His redemptive mission” (pg 23-24). Lister shows how His presence is the means and objective of His mission by tracing the theme of God’s presence through Scripture.
Particularly helpful for me: distinguishing between His omnipresence and His relational presence. The emphasis on the purpose of His work being to be present with us – this is something I have long been irritated by in gospel-centered circles, because there is so much emphasis on the gospel that allows us into His presence that the fruit of it is often ignored (I don’t think we should talk less about the gospel but more about being with God and God being with us). He builds his case convincingly and there’s some really profound statements and application (though I do wish he had added application for personal life and not just the church, though the church stuff was so good).
A summary by Lister himself here.
If you want my pages of notes, let me know! I’m still chewing on a lot from it so expect to see it influence future posts a fair bit.

On the Incarnation (Athanasius)
Another Advent read, mostly since I found it on Ezra’s shelf for next semester and thought it was a fitting time to read it. It’s an apologetic work on the incarnation – a defense of its possibility/logic as well as its necessity.
About half the book was introduction. A summary from the intro: “The Word coming into our world by taking on a body as his own, as his own instrument, in order to ensure victory over death for those who are his body.” We need God to teach us about God because of His otherness, and yet He must be human in order for us to understand it.
71 – “The death of all was completed in the lordly body, and also death and corruption were destroyed by the Word in it.”
Why he had to did such a degrading death? His power is over even such kinds of death.
How we know? He is still working.
Who but Christ’s life, death, birth – sufficiently fulfills prophecies?

The White Rose Resists (Baratt)
I read this in a couple of days. The story was good and I was craving something more mindless to read. The writing could have been better, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why that was.

Unfinished: Recalling the Hope of Glory (Ross; I have about 150 pages left) and I decided not to finish Bird by Bird (Lamott) – in part because of the narrator on the audiobook but also for content.

Kids:
Boy of the Pyramids
Treasures of the Snow
Anna Hibiscus
Milly Molly Mandy
The Secret at Pheasant Cottage

Picture Books:
Little Baa (Kim Lewis)
Olly and Me
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie
Wild Honey From the Moon (short chapter book)
The Tomb of the Boy King (Frank)
Finding Narnia (McAlister)
The Way We Do it in Japan
The Tale of the Tricky Fox (Aylesworth)
The Five Chinese Brothers

Top Books of 2020

Total count for 2020: 75 books
It’s a little crazy to look back and think that some books were read in 2020 because some seem like so much longer ago (especially the ones read while feeding a little baby). It’s been a long year for sure.

I’m always amazed at how many I read, but also frustrated that my book list never seems to shrink – it always hovers around 45 books, which is extra frustrating since I read more than that each year! A large number of those are not ones from my book list, though, especially while I have been taking classes at Western.

Reading goal for 2021: Read LESS. That’s probably the opposite of most people’s reading goals, but I have seasons of reading addictively and that leads to not processing and applying (or even remembering) much of what I read. Classes help with this but I want to push back on it more. I’m going to be using the reading journal format that one of our professors assigns for class books and also try to post Amazon reviews of at least 5 books every quarter, and maybe do more longer reviews on my blog as I’ve done for Worthy and Images & Idols this last year.

A glimpse at my 2021 list: Nick Needham’s Church history series (either for class or on my own depending on how the summer shapes up), Lord of the Rings (it’s high time to revisit!), and at least volume 4 of Charlotte Mason’s series. I’m also in the middle of Gentle and Lowly (Ortlund) and near the end of Recalling the Hope of Glory (Ross).

Now, to wrap up my 2020 reading posts, I wanted to highlight the books that I found most formative or applicable this year.

Adult

Fiction: The Door on Half-bald Hill (Sorenson). This didn’t feel like it would make this list when I read it, but I keep going back to it in my mind, probably because of how much this year can feel like meaningless cycles of life, and this story of breaking out of that was powerful (do remember though that this is in the vein of Lewis’s Till We Have Faces in that it is within a pagan worldview).

Education: Know and Tell (Glass). I read a few of Charlotte Mason’s volumes this year, but Glass’s work on narration was more helpful to me as it brought what has sounded like a good idea to a more practical level. In explaining what narration is and how narration works, Glass assuaged some of my fears and concerns about Mason’s method and how things like learning composition work within Mason’s method.

History: Vietnam and America (Marrin). This was my first foray into Marrin’s work, but I read two more after this. He doesn’t allow for simplistic answers to history’s problems, and the Vietnam war was only a blip in my history book so diving into it more was very good. His writing is very engaging and easy to read.

Theology: (I can’t pick just one!)
Inexpressible (Card). I’ve written in the past about hesed (God’s lovingkindness) and Card has influenced that a lot – this book continues to impact how I think about God and how I deal with anxiety and depression.

Images and Idols (Lister & Terry). A full review of this is coming later! But I already keep going back to their discussions of creativity and the Christian life, and using our art and creativity to glorify God and love our neighbor.

Created in God’s Image (Hoekema). This is the book for classes that I probably learned the most from. The image of God is something that gets talked about a lot, but I hadn’t dug into it on a deeper level before and so this was a super helpful book.

The Presence of God (Lister). This was one of the last books I read in 2020, so its affects are yet to be really seen, but I know it will have an impact, as well as being a good way to tie together theology classes and other readings/themes from 2020. (More coming in my 4th quarter book post.)

Runners up: Words of Life (Ward), Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Vroegop), The Creaking on the Stairs (McConnell), and All That’s Good (Anderson).


Current events: Free at Last? (Carl Ellis) and Mother to Son (Holmes)
Ellis’s book was helpful in understanding the African American’s quest for freedom and the sinfulness of much of America’s past regarding race. His focus also helped clarify the current conversation in understanding what is needed for true freedom.
Mother to Son was helpful in understanding what it is like to be/raise black boys in our culture and in the evangelical church. Heart-wrenching at times, eye-opening at others.

Light: James Herriot
I read all 5 of James Herriot’s volumes this year. They are absolutely delightful, and their episodic format makes them easy to pick up whenever I need something light to read or only have a few minutes – but they’re also engrossing and hard to put down!

Kids:

Chapter books:
Fiction: The Boy of the Pyramids and The Ordinary Princess
Non-Fiction: Birds/Fish/Insects/Animals Do the Strangest Things
Theology: Emblems of the Infinite King

Picture books:
Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie
Marguerite Makes a Book
How Batistine Made Bread
(These are all just delightful and the girls ask for them again and again)

Lament for 2020

We do not need to be reminded.
We know too well the difficulties 2020 has brought.
We know that these sufferings are not restricted to 2020.

We do not need to be reminded, but we do need to lament.

We wallow in our sorrow, smother it with the noise of media, assuage it with self-care that only offers temporary relief, or express it in anger and frustration at those in our physical or internet spaces.

We do not need to be reminded, but we do need to remember. We need to remember as we voice our laments that there is a God who hears us. A God who is in charge. A God who is good.

A God who will save.

Lament for 2020 offers a lament for the tension, suffering, and sorrow this year has brought. It is for those who grieve the absence of loved ones and those who sorrow because of the devastation of men and nature across the world. It is for those who mourn the loss of travel, weddings, graduations, community, and in-person learning, for all of us who know this is not the way it’s supposed to be. It provides a place to voice those emotions, but also calls out for God to act, with faith that He will.

Notes on the piece:
The text is drawn primarily from Lamentations and John 11. In these sections of Scripture, God is revealed as sovereign over suffering. In Lamentations, actions are attributed to God; in John, Jesus purposefully does not go to heal Lazarus. Yet, in Lamentations it is God who is cried out to for mercy, and though Mary and Martha question Jesus, they trust Him. Words spoken by Jeremiah, Mary, and Martha thus form the lyrics for this piece, voicing the individual and corporate pain that has been felt in one intense year, has been felt in every preceding year, and will be felt in every year until Christ returns. That these difficulties are for the glory of the Lord is emphasized in the piece by the cello line at the beginning, preceding the words “Creation groans, and nations rage,” repeated at the end, preceding the words “If you believe, you will see the glory of the Lord.”

The tone of the lyrics includes intense turmoil (“See, Lord, for I am in distress!” “My heart poured out on the earth!”), statements about what is happening (“Creation groans, and nations rage;” lines taken from Romans and Psalms) and the purpose of God (“The Lord has done what He has purposed”). They express quiet cries of grief (“who, who can heal you?”), pleas for the Lord to act (“Lord, if you had been here”), and confessions of faith that He will act (“If you believe, you will see the glory of the Lord”).

Lament for 2020 is the cry of a lamenting heart more than organized thoughts, more recitative than aria, due to the text being straight from Scripture and thus having irregular meter. With no cohesive melody, the piece is united by three motifs that repeat throughout the piece, one peaceful and the other two more intense.

The key of the piece is naturally minor, and E minor was chosen for both simplicity and vocal/instrumental range. The dynamic range mirrors the range of emotions expressed in the words. The scoring is simple and at times sparse, encouraging focus on the text, with musical interludes providing reflection on the lyrics. The final chord is an open fifth, leaving its quality ambiguous, alluding to hope in the “already” but leaving the tension of a “not yet” that is at times painfully dark. This allows for the possibility of major, without forcing the listener to a place of resolution. The end of the Story is known, and it has a happy ending, but it is not here yet.

My hope is that the music supports these emotions and expresses the range of feeling experienced in suffering. With quiet moments for exhausted weeping and forceful sections for confusion and frustration, wedded with the words of Scripture, may this piece provide the beginnings and framework of lament for the griefs of 2020 and beyond.

Text:

Creation groans  (Rom 8:22)
And Nations Rage (Psa 2:1)
See, Lord for I am in distress (Lam 1:20)
My soul is bereft of peace (Lam 3:17)
My eyes fail because of tears
My spirit is greatly troubled
My heart is poured out on the earth (Lam 2:11)
Who, Who can heal you? (Lam 2:13)
Lord, if you had been here… (Jn 11:21, 32)

The Lord has done what He purposed (Lam 2:17)
Why do you forsake us so long? (Lam 5:20)
See!
Remember!

Wait
Silent
For the Salvation of the Lord (Lam 3:26)

If you believe
You will see
The glory of the Lord (Jn 11:40)

Special thanks to:
Ezra Dunn
Kyle Lewis
Ryan Lister
Jess Kady
Andrew Montgomery

Piano: Kyleigh Dunn
Cello: Tabitha Stone
Soprano: Julie Brown

©2020 Kyleigh Dunn
Video link: https://youtu.be/W7T4c0o6XT0

Making Room For Lament at Christmas

4 years ago at Christmas, we were in the middle of my third international move in three years. In tow, we had a 2.5 month old and a 2 year old. A great Uncle and cousin, both deeply loved, had passed away in preceding months. I was in the darkness of postpartum depression, and across the world, in the Levant that has long held my heart, Aleppo was under devastating siege while it seemed the world did nothing to stop it.

Meanwhile, the world outside and around me was cheerfully singing of silent nights and tearless babes, sterile birth and a fat, bearded man. The mood of “the most wonderful time of the year” was stifling, and stood in stark contrast to both my heart, suffering in Syria, and the state of Israel at the time Jesus arrived.

There seemed to be little room for sharing my sorrows, only for a veneer of Christmas cheer.

We rightly rejoice at Christmas. But if our “rejoicing” is centered on lights, snowmen, presents, and family dinners, it leaves those with heavy hearts without a garment on a cold day (Prov. 25:20). Christmas can feel shallow and fake to the suffering if we don’t go deeper.

And we often do go deeper. The hope to our sorrows is proclaimed in many of the joyful songs we sing at Christmas. It is discussed in sermons and mentioned in prayers before Christmas dinner.

But it is still often done so in a way that shortcuts the process of lament, in a way that says that because everything will be alright, we can just stuff it for now.

Christmas is a time of joy, but we need to lament at Christmas. This isn’t antithetical to what we celebrate at Christmas. It isn’t something that ignores the goodness of God in sending His Son.

Lament is actually a step towards trusting the goodness of God. It is pouring out your heart to God to tell Him your pain. It is pleading with Him to act according to His goodness. It is moving towards, not away from God with your sorrows, and choosing to believe His word even when life doesn’t make sense.

And Christmas is what gives us assurance that we can trust God. He kept His promises to send the Messiah; He will keep them to make all things new. Even as we rejoice in Jesus’ first coming, we await His second coming, and while we wait, we face the realities of life in a fallen world every day. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore them. But we can and should talk with Him and His people about them, even and especially at Christmas.

In His incarnation, Jesus came into full humanity. His birth meant blood, tears, and sweat. He cried. The people He came to were oppressed. Christ’s coming shattered the line of despair as a demonstration of God’s love, faithfulness, and desire to be present with us.  

This is the center of our Christmas cheer – which then becomes a deep, abiding joy that comes from believing God’s goodness even in dark days.

If your heart feels heavy this Christmas, you’re not alone, especially in 2020. But rather than seeking relief in cookies, shopping, and presents, take your sorrows to God.
Lament.

(Good tools for this are always Psalms and other Scriptures, but around Christmas, the “Advent carols” like Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come Emmanuel are also helpful.)

God in Flesh

This is my body, broken for you.
His slippery flesh bursts from the womb
Her anguished cries that had pierced the night
Now echo in lungs of the one true Light.

This, This is Christ the King
Joining the sorrow of the suffering
The infant crowned
Blood and sweat on the dust of the ground.

This is my blood, shed for you.
Hers was spilled, bringing Him here,
His poured out rebirthing her soul
Torn apart, making wounded whole.

This, This is Christ the King
Yet arms ‘round their innocents cling.
A sword, He brings, not sterile creche
For God has come, and in the flesh.

Advent 2020

Advent, a season of remembering the longing for Christ’s first coming, feels especially important this year. I don’t have to remind anyone about 2020 and all it has held. We are all aware of creation groaning and nations raging, to speak nothing of the personal struggles the year has held for many.

As usual, I wanted to share a few resources.

This year, I am using John Piper’s “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” (downloadable here, though I ordered a hard copy for less screen time), and doing the Jesse Tree with the girls (I updated this old post with the Scripture passages we are trying out for the different ornaments this year. The last two years I just used children’s Bibles).

I’m not sure if she’s doing it again this year, but I have enjoyed the Gentle Leading Advent series in the past, hosted by Abbey Wedgeworth.

As in previous years, I am doing a social media and sugar fast during Advent as well. We usually see Advent as a time of celebration, but it’s also meant to be a time of longing for Christ – as once His first coming was longed for, now we long for His return. So it seems fitting to fast, and I actually have enjoyed this season more without the distraction of attempted moderation with sweets and social media. We do still plan on fun things like gingerbread houses so I may make exception for that or just make them close enough to Christmas that I can enjoy them after.
This also means that my blog will be silent in December!

I have done Advent writings of my own in the past. You can find them under the Advent tab here, but I have also linked some below.

Advent Art:
Poem: La Corona (John Donne)
Drawing: The Consolation of Eve (cool, but don’t push the theology too hard)
YouTube Playlist
Spoken Word: The Incarnation (and this is the Augustine quote at the end) and Mary’s Song
(And none of it is on YouTube, but the Let it Snow album of the Kings’ Singers and Albrecht Mayer is hands down my favorite Christmas music)

My poem “God in Flesh” will be posting here on December 1st.

Fun Advent Ideas for Kids (2017)

Musings on some specific Advent phrases (2016)

On Christmas when you’re sorrowful – my post here and a friend’s here.

2015 Advent Series (current events were different, but easily swapped out as you read). Each post has a song, Scripture passage, and thought.
1. Introduction
2. The Refiner’s Fire
3. God Does Not Sleep
4. Of the Father’s Love Begotten
5. The Dear Christ Enters In
6. Jesus, Our Emmanuel
7. To Bring Us to God
8. My Redeemer Liveth
9. Christ In Us

Online Favorites

(Mostly just for fun, but also to help those of these that are small businesses. I don’t agree with everything in any of these but they’re still helpful, encouraging, or yummy!)

Podcasts:
5 I listen to pretty much every episode of:
1. Life and books and everything
2. Let’s Talk
3. Risen Motherhood
4. Verity by Phylicia Masonheimer
5. Food Trucks in Babylon

And two I enjoy but don’t listen to every episode:
6. Journeywomen
7. In the Studio with Michael card

Ezra’s picks:
Cultish
Pastor’s Talk

Blogs:
1. Letters from Nebby
2. Minimalist Baker
3. Ambitious Kitchen
4. My Little Robins
5. Little Book, Big Story

YouTube & Instagram:
(I don’t subscribe to much on YouTube and don’t follow many people I don’t know personally on Instagram)
1. Jess Connell
2. Venison for dinner (and Instagram)
3. Simon Khorolskiy (Ezra’s pick)
4. Aleph with Beth (Hebrew; we’re using this with the girls)
5. Jackie Hill Perry

Quotables, November 2020

S, age 5-6

“Pointe shoes aren’t pretty because they have squares on the bottom.”

“I like to help you in the kitchen so you don’t get tired and because I like to taste things.”

“I want a castle, not a house” (after a dream about a castle)

“I heard lots of loud airplanes” (hearing thunder in the middle of the night)

E: “S, since your pig is a girl and my rooster is a boy, they should get married.”
S: “Um, no. Animals of different kinds don’t get married.”
Then she convinced E to pretend a stuffed bear was a hen so it could marry the rooster.

“I don’t suppose my apple seed has grown; I’ll go and see” (in a British accent from listening to Pooh)

“If we have a farm I want to have a pig and a gun so we can have salami.”

“I have a problem! I don’t know why I love people!”

“If tomorrow’s Sunday, I feel like some of the days were taken out of the week.”

We said something about a Toyota, and S said “[Cousin] has a toy Yoda!”

E, age 3-4

S: what’s a snapping turtle? I never want to meet one!
E: I want to eat one!

“I was only a little bit afraid of the spider, that’s why I stepped on S’s head.”

“What if it’s not Coronavirus? Then we’ll be happily ever after.”

“I’m just a sinner but the wicked are worse than sinners.”

When I tried on shoes too big for me – “It’s ok, your feet will grow.”

Me: “Hopefully S’s leg feels better tomorrow.”
E: “Hopefully it doesn’t fall off.”

“I said zucchini in a way that sounds like cucumber.”

I called B thunder thighs and she said “We should have named her that.”